Mindless Eating Series Part III: Reconnecting to Our Hungry & Fullness Cues

This is the last post of our Mindless Eating Series and it’s my favorite one because I think it’s so often overlooked.

In the last two posts we covered the good vs bad food mentality, how our emotions can lead to mindless eating and strategies for dealing with each.

Today we’re going to talk about hunger and fullness cues. As past or even current dieters, we are taught to go against our natural intuition when it comes to eating.  By doing so, we can actually forget what it feels like to be hungry or full.  When we forget what these hunger cues feel like, it is much easier for us to eat mindlessly because we never know if we’re physically hungry or full since we’re just on autopilot.  What we need are strategies to find a way to trust our selves and trust our bodies to reset our hunger and fullness cues that  we lose so early in life.  That’s exactly what I have for you in this post 🙂

I spend a lot of time with my nephew, Bradley, who is almost two years old.  After watching my sister and brother-in-law feed him a bunch of times, and feeding him myself, I’ve observed a few things.  Bradley eats when he’s hungry and eats what he wants, when he wants, and how much he wants. If he want more food he let’s us know (“mo”) and if he’s done he gives a solid “no.”  He’s simply going by his body’s hunger and fullness cues. Some days he’ll eat three eggs and some days it’s “no.”  We tend lose that intuition so early on in life (ex: forced to sit at the table and eat broccoli even though you don’t like it) then become even more out of touch with it once we enter the dieting world where the urge to ignore what our body wants becomes even stronger:

  • Eat 6 small meals per day.  Even if you’re full after 5pm, you gotta stuff meal 6 in!
  • Eat only x number of calories per day.  If you eat all your calories by 5pm you’re shit outta luck!
  • Don’t eat past 7pm.  Hungry at 9? Nope. Can’t eat.
So…how do we get those cues back?
Hunger Cues
If you’ve been programmed through dieting to eat when you’re not hungry you might have forgotten what hungry feels like.  To remedy that, you have to let yourself get a little bit hungry. Not so hungry that you’re lightheaded and irritable but hungry enough to remember the feeling (light gnawing or growling noises). To those who haven’t experienced forgetting what hunger feels like, this can sound a bit crazy.  I get that.  But it’s absolutely true that we can forget the feeling!
After following a competition diet for about 6 months then deciding to stop, I remember telling a friend that it was like I forgot how to eat without being on a schedule.  I forgot how to feel hungry because I was on such a strict eating schedule and was never feeling my hunger.  I was in what they call a “building phase” so I was instructed to eat even when I was still full from my previous meal. I had to eat my 6 meals.  When I told my coach I wasn’t hungry for 6 meals after being on the diet for a couple weeks she told me to eliminate condiments…say what?!   But I did…bye mustard!  Once I stopped following her ridiculous advice it took me a good while to bounce back (note: if a coach ever tells you to eat when you’re not hungry or continue eating even though you’re full…run).  I bounced back by letting myself get hungry before I ate another snack or meal.  I would let my stomach feel a bit empty then I’d fill it up again to a comfortable point (more on that below).  This took practice.  Being hungry was scary. I was constantly thinking things like what if I didn’t pack enough food? Or what if I get really hungry and don’t get a break to eat?  Both of these things happened and they still happen sometimes.  And I survive just fine 🙂  I eat as soon as I can and make the best choice for me at that time.
Once you’re able to recognize hunger again you’ll be much better able to know if you’re really hungry or mindlessly eating. Remember the difference between physical and emotional hunger that we touched upon in the last post?  Give yourself a little refresher if you forget 🙂 The definitions are right at the top of the post.
Fullness Cues
How do we recognize our fullness cues???  Ready for this???
Practice becoming a more mindful eater!
Ignoring our fullness goes right along with mindless eating.  Remember, mindless eating occurs when we don’t pay attention to what we are eating or the amount we are eating, so we often eat way past the point of fullness.  In order to feel fullness, we have to slow down.  We have to take breaks during meals and notice how our bodies are feeling.  This is much easier to do when we aren’t distracted by our phones or the TV but since so many of us are attached to our phones (myself included) I want to suggest that you take a break every few bites.  Put down the fork and notice how you’re feeling. The food isn’t going anywhere…no one is going to take it away. Slowww down and enjoy your food.  This will give you lots of opportunities to check in with how full you’re getting.
I’ve read suggestions telling us to stop eating when we’re 80% full but I’m not a huge fan of this because what the heck does that even mean?  Math isn’t my thing 😉  You simply need to practice stopping when you’re full, not stuffed. Constantly remind yourself that whatever food you’re eating is always available.  You can always order a pizza or go grab some candy. You don’t have to feel urgency to eat it all in one sitting.   Try to get out of the mindset that food won’t be available when you want it because guess what? It will be!  Order your pizza, put one or two slices on a plate, eat them slowly (distraction free is a plus) and wait a while before you go back for seconds.  After time you’ll find that you probably don’t need that third of fourth slice. Save some for the next day or freeze it.  It’s not a crime to have pizza two days in a row every so often which we already know since we’re working on ditching the good vs bad food mentality 😉
If you find yourself eating even though you know you’re full, check yourself!  Remember in part two of this series we talked about emotions around mindless eating.  This is a good chance to explore what emotions you have swimming around in your mind and face them head on.

Summary

 

 

{On the good vs bad diet mentality}

What if instead of good vs bad we thought of all food as just being ok?  What if we saw certain foods as just food instead of something to avoid or restrict?  This would take all the pressure, novelty and stress away from eating (or not eating) something.  The chances of overeating will go down significantly once you get this mentality straight. This is a big-time mindset shift, especially for those of us who have a habit of categorizing food, and it takes time and practice to get there.

 

{On emotions}
Here’s the thing…there is no way to avoid our emotions.  They’re going to come out in  one way or another whether it be sudden and intense food cravings, breakouts, sore muscles, etc.  As hard as it is to sit with negative stuff, that’s a huge part of this process.  To change from being a mindless eater to mindful eater, we have deal with what’s going on emotionally.  Know that it takes trial and error to be able to figure out what works for you. Maybe it’s hitting pause by reading for pleasure, some form of movement, meditation, weekly chats with a friend, journaling, eating with chopsticks, counting to 10, the possibilities are endless.  Find your personal best strategy and be patient.  Getting a handle on all this stuff takes time and practice.
{On Hunger and Fullness Cues}
If you’ve been programmed through dieting to eat when you’re not hungry you might have forgotten what hungry feels like.  To remedy that, you have to let yourself get a little bit hungry. Not so hungry that you’re lightheaded and irritable but hungry enough to remember the feeling (light gnawing or growling noises). Once you’re able to recognize hunger again you’ll be much better able to know if you’re really hungry or mindlessly eating.
You simply need to practice stopping when you’re full, not stuffed. Constantly remind yourself that whatever food you’re eating is always available.  You can always order a pizza or go grab some candy. You don’t have to feel urgency to eat it all in one sitting.   Try to get out of the mindset that food won’t be available when you want it because guess what? It will be!  Slow down while you’re eating and listen to your body.  Check in with how full or not full you are and either stop eating and save some for later, or keep going until you’re satisfied.

 I am really hopeful that by now anyone struggling with mindless eating will have a few tools under their belts to begin practicing breaking away from that habit after working through this series.  As you might have recognized there’s a theme in all three posts of practice.  Nothing will change overnight but once you begin integrating some of these strategies into your daily life you could wake up one day and realized you haven’t been  eating mindlessly for weeks 🙂  If you feel like anything was left unsaid or if you want me to touch upon anything else please reach out to me (info@fueledphysique.com).

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